It’s important to have time for yourself every day. Doing so decrease the stress levels that we all experience at work and at home. In this episode, Alexis Haselberger joins host Penny Zenker as they discuss time management and productivity. In our daily life, balancing time for work, house chores, exercise, and other tasks is tantamount to having a healthy lifestyle. Discover how you can have more time for yourself to do the things you want to do as Penny and Alexis dive into time blocking, handling distractions, and managing nagging notifications.
Listen to the podcast here:
Productivity, Time Management And Efficiency With Alexis Haselberger
I’m excited to have Alexis Haselberger with us. She is a productivity, time management and efficiency expert and she says also known as nerd. She spent many years of her career managing operations and HR at several early-stage startups. There was always way more to do than people to do it. I can relate and I’m sure all of you can relate to. She also believes aside from working hard that work-life balance is essential for everyone even though the definition may be different for everyone. Without further ado, Alexis, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Penny. It’s so exciting to be here and talk to you about my favorite subjects.
Tell me why is it your favorite subject? That is pretty nerdy.
It is pretty nerdy and a lot of people think, “Time management, that’s not fun.” I think it’s totally fun. My goal in life is to help other people figure out how to implement systems, strategies, etc., so that we can do more of what we want and less of what we don’t. We can decrease the stress levels that we all experience when we’re working and we have families and there are a million things to do. For me, it’s important that I have time for myself every day. In order to do that, I need to be mindful of how I use my time and I want others to know that there’s a way to get there also.
Let’s talk about what is one thing that you do to give yourself time every day for yourself?
One thing I do is time blocking, which I know is not a new thing. A lot of people time block which is saying, “Here’s what my intentions are about what I’m going to do and here is when I’m going to do it,” and then sticking to that as much as I can. We can’t stick to it 100% because we live in the real world but blocking off time on my calendar of when I am not going to be doing anything related to work. For me, after my kids go to bed at 8:30, that is the time that I am not working. I am doing whatever I want. Sometimes that’s binge-watching Netflix and sometimes that’s reading.
Do you have a block that says binge watch?
No. I have a block that says, “Whatever I want.”
You’re very specific in blocking time that you’re going to spend for yourself. Do you distinguish? Let’s say, and I do the same thing, but I don’t necessarily block after I’m off. What about like workouts and things like that? Are those clearly marked as a workout or is that just block this free time for you?
Workouts are clearly marked as a workout because you have to build it into your schedule. If you expect that time to come or if you expect to find the time, it’s never going to happen.
If you don’t call it a workout, you’ll do something else.
I have a block every day. That’s the first thing I do when I finish work. When I finished my meetings for the day or when I finished my end of day planning, I have a block that’s a workout. It exists five days a week. I move it around based on when my meetings are. It’s in there as a recurring appointment so that I know that I have to find a place in the day to make it happen.
What happens if something gets in the way? What do you do?
A lot of times, things get in the way. I’ll readjust. I believe in being kind with yourself about this stuff. My goal is to go for a 35 to 45-minute run every day. That’s my goal. If things get a little screwed up and I don’t have time because client meeting ran over, there was an emergency or my kid’s school called and I needed to go pick them up or something, then I will still do exercise, but I’ll do exercise that takes less time. I’ll switch to let’s say the New York Times’ seven-minute workout that I know I can do in my house. I’ll switch it and say, “I didn’t get a full run-in and that’s okay, but I did do some exercise.”
That’s the key thing. I do the same thing and I tell people that if it’s important to you and it’s a block there, then you can’t delete it. You have to either move it or you have to adapt it. You can still work out in 5 to 7 minutes. There are plenty of New York Times and there are plenty of apps that will allow you also to choose a five-minute workout and it’ll give you serious abs or whatever for five minutes. That’s way better than not doing it. It’s so important to create that momentum and keeps that momentum going.
That’s what keeps the habits going. We all know how hard it is to get back into exercising or anything after we’ve been on vacation. You don’t have those habits built in.
That’s an important tip. You say we all know about time blocking. I’m surprised that there’s a lot of people who don’t know what time blocking is. Give us your perspective on what time blocking is.
For me, time blocking is putting actual time blocks on our calendars as if they were meetings for things that are not meetings or things that we want to get done. For instance, what this looks like in my world is I have my calendar that has my client appointments and things like that on it. I have an overlaid calendar called time blocking, where I fill in the gaps with what I’m going to do from my task list. If I have large things on a weekly basis, I’ll fill in the blocks of large projects or tasks that I’m doing. Maybe writing a blog post or creating content for a workshop that I’m doing or something like that.
I also have blocks for the things that take time, but we often don’t think about like email and Slack. These things take time out of our day, sometimes a lot of time. We often do it in between things and don’t prioritize it and you think this happens all the time. Somebody was like, “I work an eight-hour day and I have three hours of meetings so that means I have five hours to work on my projects.” No, you don’t have five hours to work on your projects because you have to subtract the 1.5 hours that you would be answering your email and communications and things like that. For me, time blocking is about being realistic.
We are unrealistic a lot of times in the way that we plan for things.
I have a block on my calendar that says, “Cook dinner,” because I know that if I leave it to the last minute, that my kids are going to be eating later than we intended. I have to build that time there. We think we’re going to remember it. We think that in the heat of the moment when somebody’s saying, “Can we meet at 4:00?” We’re like, “Yeah, I can meet at 4:00. Nothing’s there.” We forget about the exercise that we wanted to do or the fact that we have to cook dinner or whatever it is.
There’s an opportunity cost because you could meet someone, but that might mean you’re not going to the gym. When you blocked out, you get to be more deliberate and more purposeful about what you’re choosing to do.
It’s more intentional. A lot of times we do what I called, “Letting the day happen to us.” That’s where we’re like, this person wants to talk and it’s email, then this person’s calling and then we get to the end of the day and nothing’s crossed off our to-do list even though we’ve been working all day. We feel bad about how we spend our time. We don’t feel good about it. My goal in working for myself and with other people is, how do we feel better about what we did get done versus what we have to get done? I’m not helping anybody make their to-do list shorter. It would be better about how we’re spending our time on important things.
I said that too somewhere and somebody gave me a hard time. I said, “I think productivity is a feeling.” What do you think about that?
I 100% agree. I always say to people, “We’re going to die one day with a big long list of stuff we didn’t do and that is okay.” That’s preferable because what would it be like if we finished everything every day? We’d have nothing to strive for. You’re totally right in calling it a feeling that what we want to get to is that we know and we feel good that the stuff we did was more important than the stuff we didn’t do and that’s it.To have time for yourself, you have to be mindful of how you use your time. Click To Tweet
It’s not like when you lay in bed sick, do you think, “I was so unproductive today.” You’re feeling pretty productive because you did what you needed to do. I needed to lay down and sleep all day and that was exactly what I needed to do.
It’s the same for leisure time too. I come across a lot of people who feel bad anytime they watch TV or something like that. You deserve time to do something that you enjoy. That’s totally fine. Nobody’s judging you. I’m not judging you for what you want to do in your free time. I’m happy you have free time to watch TV.
Let’s talk about vacation. There are a lot of entrepreneurs that haven’t had a vacation in ten years. How do you feel about that and productivity and time management?
All of the studies, which I’m sure you know, show that it is incredibly important to have breaks. It’s not just breaks in five minutes here and there, but actual breaks from work that allow our minds to decompress. When we do take real breaks where we decompress from work, we come back more productive, more creative and more accurate in what we’re doing. I am a person who even when I worked for other people, I never checked email on a vacation. Not once, because I always assumed that if somebody needs me, they will find a way to get to me.
They will call me. Nobody ever needed me. We are not as important as we think we are. That helps me feel good about that. You’re right, there are many entrepreneurs out there who never take vacations. That’s exactly how we burn out and also how we get stuck in ruts in our business. I don’t know about you, but I get my best ideas for my business and for blog posts when I’m on a run. I am always stopping to make a voice note about a great blog post idea that I had when I was running.
Me too. When I’m working out, when I’m in the shower, when I’m taking a walk, it’s generally when I’m not at the desk. I think also that if you are that important in your business, then your business is not going to scale. You’re not going to be able to grow your business if you were intertwined in every aspect. You can celebrate and should take yourself out of the business. That’s a way to show that it’s working.
That’s also how you model healthy behavior to your employees. I grew up in the startup world. Another thing that I saw all the time was CEOs who said stuff like, “You’re not expected to work on vacation. You’re not expected to answer your email after work.” When you then see that that person is sending you an email at 3:00 AM or when you get back to work and you’ve been at work an hour after a vacation and they’re like, “Are you up to speed on X, Y and Z?” The message they’re sending is whatever they say, they do expect you to be on.
How do you suggest that people deal with that? That is a challenge for a lot of people. They said, “Yeah, but. That’s a great strategy, but it doesn’t work for me.”
I’m not all about tools and technology, but there are ones that can help us. The ability to schedule emails to send it a specific time is something that all leaders should take on. I don’t suggest that you’d be doing your email at 3:00 AM. That’s not very healthy for most people, but if you’re going to do that, then you need to schedule it so that it sends at 8:00 AM. The message you’re sending to your employees is not one that causes burnout.
You can hold it. You can draft it, then send them all after you draft it. It’s important and I want to talk about the other side of that, about the receiver. I call it the hot potato syndrome because I got something on my plate and it’s hot. I’ve got to get it off because I want to get it out of my head. Because that’s urgent for me to get it out of my head, it doesn’t mean that it’s urgent for the other person to do exactly at that moment. I just want it off my plate. Unfortunately, people pass the hot potato along and everybody thinks it’s a hot potato. If you hold on to it and let it cool down, it’ll be what it’s supposed to be. What you said is perfect that using, scheduling, respecting other people and how they might be receiving it is going to help productivity all around and also for the receiver is not to see every request as urgent.
We are speaking the same language. I totally agree. I’m always telling people, “The person sending you that email, that gave you that notification, they are not thinking about you and that you’re going to get it. They are thinking about themselves and they want to get it out of their brain.” We’re in an environment now where we’re in the baby nascent stages of learning how to use technology for good and having it run our lives. On the receiver’s end too, turning off those notifications.
Why can’t people do that? Tell me why.
I have no notifications on. I have meeting notifications because that’s important, but no Slack, no email, no text, not on my phone, not on my desktop. I want to be in control of when I respond to other people.
You can go get it when you need it, but it is a distraction. Even if you hear it and you don’t act on it, your brain has shifted for a moment and is still thinking, “I wonder what that was. I wonder if that was important.”
There was that study that came out of UC Irvine a few years ago that showed every time we are distracted or interrupted, even if it’s one notification popping up on our phone, if it’s a silent one or it’s the little light, it takes us on average 23 minutes to regain focus on what we were doing. The only notifications I have are meeting notification.
It’s important that people manage that. You can select which ones you hear and which ones you don’t hear. I don’t even have meeting notifications because I’ll look at my calendar in the morning. I can go after each meeting, look at my calendar and see what I have when I’m finished with what I have.
I used to not have meeting notifications either. I have a lot of clients who talked a lot, which is a great thing, but sometimes I need to check.
You want to regulate the time. There are different strokes for different people. It’s important that whatever we were talking about like when you said somebody is sending at 3:00 AM. If you can’t sleep and that’s the most productive use of your time because you couldn’t sleep, it is what it is. You get to make the decisions of whatever is going to be productive and make sense for you, but we’re giving some best practices. For that person who gets the email from the CEO at 3:00 AM or their boss texts them at 6:00 AM, what do you suggest they do with that?
If we can get people into a rhythm where they’re processing, I don’t call checking email processing like processing their email a few times a day. That is the best for most peoples, the way that their brains work for not getting distracted and for having deep thinking time. It also requires communication because if you are a person who has been responding immediately to everything, you do need to have a conversation and say, “I am trying out some different techniques because I have noticed that my focus and my productivity needs some work. I bet a lot of other people do too. What I’m going to be trying is I’m going to be checking email at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM.
If you need me urgently, please call me or please text me,” or whatever that notification. We’ve all got something, most of us. I do keep my phone on silent during the day, but most people do not. What is that one way that someone can get to you if they need you? You find that when people have this conversation, they often realize that their boss wasn’t expecting them to answer at 6:00 AM. They’re like, “I didn’t even know that you were thinking that I needed a response to that.”
We make everything urgent. It’s critical that we have those conversations with our teams, with our boss. It’s a good time. We’re not far from the new year. With the new year coming, sit down with your boss, your team and your colleagues and say, “Let’s implement some things that are going to support all of us and being more productive.” Talk about what some of the challenges are. It’s as simple as saying, “Here’s what I’m going to be doing and here’s a way that you can get ahold of me if it’s critical.” You come up with a way that’s going to work for both of you. It’s that simple but we’re afraid to have that communication. We’re afraid of what the other person might think. It would create the opposite response instead of resistance. It would create respect.
I am always talking to teams too about how do we have conversations about communication norms amongst our team? Some people have variations on how quickly should a Slack response be answered. You ask a team of five people and every single one of those people is going to give you a completely different answer. Having those conversations is totally key, so that we can get on the same page. Also, talk about are these false expectations that we had put on ourselves? Yet, none of us wants to be.
It comes down to that we all care. We care about other people. When these responses or these requests come in, we take them seriously, “I got to get back to them immediately. I got to get back to this.” It creates that overload because of technology and its access to us now. We have to be smarter about the way we process. I’m going to borrow that from you because the languaging is critical there. We have to process it differently because of the way that it comes into us. That’s our challenge, and you said it in the very beginning is, how we can be more intentional. Tell me about some of the tools that you love that you think are productivity and time management must-haves or great to have.
The way that I think about tools is I don’t use a ton of them. I don’t want lots of different apps. The one tool that is more and more necessary for everyone is having a task manager app. It’s having someplace that is electronic where you keep all of the things that you have to do and the stuff that you have to follow up on. I teach a method of test management that’s system-agnostic, but I do have my favorites. The tool that I recommend most often to my clients is called TickTick. It is a task manager app that no one has ever heard of. It’s like this secret little thing. It has an amazing interface. It has all the features that you want, none of the bloat that you don’t. It has an amazing free version and nobody’s ever heard of it. I’m their unofficial ambassador. This is the tool that I recommend most frequently to my clients who were not already using Asana or something like that. Check it out.
What are the features that you like most in it, so people can understand also when they’re managing their to-do list? What are some of the things that help them to be efficient and effective in doing that?
For me, the way that I approach task management is that you need a few fields. In any system you use, you’re going to need a few specific fields. You need a subject field like, what is the task? What is the thing that you’re doing? You need description so that you can add, what are your next steps? What are the checklists of things that you’re doing on this thing or notes about it? You need a date field so that you know not necessarily due dates, but when are you going to take action on something? You need to know due dates where there are due dates.
We also need to know when we are going to do this thing. What is the date that I’m time blocking so that I’m going to work on this next step of this thing at that time? You need a way to document, so you need a comment field. Most task apps including this one has a commenting field where you type a little quick note to yourself. It time and date stamps it. That way, when somebody asks you, where are we on X, Y or Z, you can be like, “I sent that email to Bob on Tuesday. Julie talked to me about it on Thursday and now we’re at this stage,” without using your memory for all.
Give us two more. You don’t have to describe them, but what are they and what do they cover?
I love Calendly. Even for people who don’t have a business, Calendly is a great way to ensure that you’re not having all this back and forth emails about, “When can we meet?” Having an app like that is great. Honestly, our calendar is such a basic tool, but many people aren’t using their calendar to full effect. They’re looking at it sometimes but they’re not using it for time blocking. Being able to actively use our calendars, not just for our work management, but also I have a family calendar that overlays on every one of my family. On that, I have our meal plan so that everyone knows what’s for dinner and people could stop asking me, “What are we having for dinner tonight?”
Some simple things to share can be done and shared through the calendar. Thank you. I’m sure you’ve got loads of other tips and tricks that you’d love to share. Where can people find out more about you?If you expect the time to come or if you expect to find the time to do something, it’s never going to happen. Click To Tweet
My website is AlexisHaselberger.com. That is the best place for people to find out more. I have a newsletter that’s free if anyone’s interested in that. I know we all need more email, but I tried to send out tips only when I have something valuable to say.
Alexis, thank you so much for being here and sharing some valuable and important time management and productivity tips.
Thank you so much. It was a fun conversation
Thank you all for being here. Even though you know some of these, the truth is you’re not doing some of these. If you want to be more intentional and get the results that you’re looking for and feel more productive, then look at your consistency level. Putting these things into practice and being consistent about the application, that’s what it’s all about. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Alexis Haselberger
Alexis Haselberger is a productivity, time-management and efficiency expert (aka nerd). She spent the first 15+ years of her career managing operations and HR at several early-stage start-ups, where there was always way more to do than people to do it. But she also believes that work-life balance is essential for everyone, even though the definition may be different for everyone.
As a result, she began to develop and implement productivity systems in the companies she worked for, and in her own life, to ensure that goals were met, balls were not dropped, and that, most importantly, I and those around her stayed sane.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!